Vancouver Island to the Aleutians and Beyond - Part Six

Abandoned shoreside cabins
Curious Otter
Crossing Shelikof Strait
At anchor in Hidden Harbor
Geographic Bay
Mother with three cubs
Courting bears
Unmistakable gesture
Venture in Chignik
Castle Bay
Castle Bay
Castle Bay
Castle Cape
American Bay
American Bay
Sand Point in the rain
Venture in Sand Point
Fishing boat Sand Point
Our first salmon
Russian church at Sand Point

Thursday May 28th

We leave the slip at 0730 and head for the fuel dock where we take on 1500 gallons of diesel - the first since leaving Juneau. With full tanks, we depart Kodiak town and thread our way between softly rounded islands that lie to the north; their flanks an emerald green, mottled with darker patches of spruce. The day starts calm but turns blustery. We anchor in Dry Spruce Bay at 1352.

Friday May 29th

We are underway at 0750 and see a set netter handling his nets from a small boat along the shore. We pass a cluster of buildings described on the chart as a cannery. Through binoculars, we can see the name Port Bailey but are not sure whether it is still a working cannery. Once plentiful along the coast, most are now closed but these buildings are in good condition with people and vehicles moving around. Ahead we see clusters of otters just hanging out. While still some distance away they duck-dive like porpoises. We have the impression these animals are more skittish when in groups than when on their own.

We pass through Kupreanof Strait and, where it connects with Shelikof Strait, can see immense snow covered mountains on the Katmai peninsula across the strait. Flanked by high mountains on both sides, Shelikof Strait has earned a reputation as a wind tunnel. Once in open water, a 25 knot wind hurls sheets of spray across the windshield.

We gain protection as soon as we turned into Kinck Bay on the mainland. We proceed inland through a narrow channel into well-named Hidden Harbor. Once inside, we have the illusion of being inside a landlocked bay. We spot a couple of bears on far off beaches.

What, at first glance appear to be patches of dirty snow on the flanks of the surrounding mountains, turn out to be residue from the enormous eruption of Novarupta in June 1912. Few outside this area, including ourselves, know of this cataclysmic event which occurred on the evening of June 6th 2012. The eruption was ten times stronger than the May 1980 eruption of Mt. St Helens and ejected twice as much matter as the 1883 explosion of Krakatoa in Indonesia. In the town of Kodiak the cloud of ash was so thick you could not see a lantern held at arms length. Grey ash covered everything in a layer 14" thick but, in some places, was head high. Any rain that fell was so acid that it dissolved clothes hung out to dry- even as far away as Vancouver. Miraculously, due largely to the actions of a few individuals and the miracle that a handful of key vessels happened to be in port, there were no fatalities.

Saturday May 30th

Taking advantage of a beautiful sunny morning, we decide to fly the drone around the boat and take some stills and video. Chris does the flying while I stand on the foredeck and hold the drone above my head for take off and retrieval. We feel this reduces the risk of dropping the drone into the water on take off and landing. Once underway at 0930, we round the point into Geographic Bay where we anchor at the head of the bay. All is peace with just the noise of rushing streams to disturb the silence. We spot several bears on beaches including a mother with two well-grown cubs but they are too far away to photograph.

Around 6pm a float plane lands across the bay. The pilot taxis to a shallow spot and drops anchor. The passengers climb onto the floats and lower themselves into thigh deep water. Accompanied by a guide they wade ashore along a sand spit to stand quite close to one of the bears we have been watching. The bears in this area are protected and, clearly, habituated to humans. Elsewhere in Alaska, we have found they beat a hasty retreat at even a distant glimpse of a human.

Sunday May 31st

We awake to find ourselves enveloped in fog which slowly dissipates. The same float plane as yesterday arrives and offloads people onto a different beach to watch a mother bear and her cub. She too does not appear to be unduly concerned. We launch the big tender and embark on our own tour of exploration. We have a wonderful day during which we see a total of no less than sixteen bears. In the tender, we can come to within one hundred yards without disturbing the animals and with each sighting we encounter a different scenario. In one it was a mother bear (I hate using the word "sow") with three cubs and in another it was two blond females competing for the attention of a male bear. We had always imagined it would be the other way around.

Monday June 1st

Again we have morning fog which burns off before we get underway at 0940. On the way out we Teacup which we had first encountered many miles north and last seen in Kodiak. We speak with Paul on the VHF. Before departing Geographic we turn off into a bay and spot a different mother bear also with three cubs. At the head of the bay two bears forage along the beach. The blond one stands on her hind legs before giving us what looks very much like the universal sign for "up yours"!

Back in Shelikof Strait we see several whales including one which breached several times - the last occasion only 50 yards from the boat. It happens so suddenly and so fast it is hard to grasp what is happening but it is an amazing sight and makes us realize the size of these huge animals. We turn into Big Alinchak Bay where we launch the big tender. We spot a pair of bald eagles with a nest on a sea stack. Our approach makes them nervous so we back off. Along the peninsula which divides Big Alinchak Bay from Little Alinchak Bay we see a red fox on hillside. He looks at us but dismisses us as being of no account.

Tuesday June 2nd.

At 0500 the bay is socked in with mist. By 0800 it burns off to reveal a lovely sunny day turning the surrounding hills a luminous green. By the time we are underway the sky has clouded over to a solid grey, draining the color from the landscape. The sea is glassy but undulating with a southeasterly swell. To port we can see the grey outline of Kodiak Island twenty miles away across the Shelikof Strait. As we head west, the island tapers off and disappears below the horizon. We follow the coast of the peninsula, appearing as a line of low grey hills with saw tooth appearance with rocky outcrops. Along the distant horizon ahead of us, the skies lighten to reveal snowy peaks. The swells diminish and the ocean becomes completely calm and glassy with barely a breath of wind. In mid afternoon we turn into Agripina Bay where the surrounding landscape is austere and clearly of volcanic origin.

Wednesday June 3rd

We are underway by 0700 under grey, overcast skies just spitting with rain. This is a dangerous coast with rocky islands and numerous sea stacks. An underwater pinnacle named Devils Thumb, only 3 ft below the water at low tide, lies in wait for the unwary. We could go well offshore and bypass the hazards but we choose to take the inland scenic route which calls for careful navigation. We drive past Ugalushak Island and see large numbers of birds including puffins. They take to the air, swirling around the cliffs like smoke. These are the first birds we have seen in large numbers. Compared with the North Atlantic, they are disappointingly few in number. Christine spots orca fins but they submerge as we draw closer.

We thread our way through a maze of rocky islets, skerries and hidden rocks. The Gulf is amazingly calm - even glassy. Grey clouds kiss the tops of the mountains. We enter Chignik Bay which is so large we cannot discern its boundaries in the misty conditions. There is a small settlement here called Chignick. We see a fishing boat approaching the harbor. This is first boat we have seen since seeing Teacup in Geographic. We tour the harbor and anchor just inside Chignick Spit. A local in a small boat thoughtfully stops by to ensure we have anchored in sufficient depth not to go aground in the upcoming minus tide.

Thursday June 4th

When we awake the tide is indeed very low (-1.8) but we had allowed for it when we dropped anchor. It is spitting rain but the sea continues calm which is more important. When underway, we see the Alaska State ferry "Tustamena" on her way into Chignick. She only calls here once per month so this will be important day for the village. She has come from Kodiak and her next stop will be Sand Point.

We turn into Castle Bay - obviously so named because of the shape of the rocks on Castle Cape. It is six miles to its head and we anchor in 65 ft in the northern arm of Castle Bay. Here the mountains rise almost sheer 3,600 ft from the water in a series of jagged spires draped with mist. The vegetation at their base is verdant green. We spot a mother bear and two cubs in the undergrowth but they are far off and never come down to the beach. The mist swirls around the peaks sometimes concealing them and, at others, partially drawing back the gauzy curtain to highlight them with shafts of sunlight. This is perhaps the most dramatic anchorage we have ever encountered. When the rain stops we go for a ride in the large tender to photograph Venture against the dramatic backdrop.

Friday June 5th

When we awake the spires are clear with a horizontal skein of mist hanging midway up their height. We plan to launch the tender for more photography but before we can do so, the mist closes in and conceals them from our view. Once underway, we round narrow Castle Cape which remains dramatic no matter from which direction it is viewed . We pass the entrance to Seal Bay (no seals) and wend our way past un-named sea stacks and numerous islands in the Shumigan group with names like Chankluit, Brother, Microfania and Chiachi. On almost every island, where the coast meets the sea, it is as if some cataclysmic force has sheared off the land creating fissured and shattered cliffs 3,500 ft high dropping sheer to the sea. In the Atlantic these cliffs would be home to millions of shrieking birds but here there is hardly a one.

This is terrain that is raw and untamed. The waters may be visited by man in search of its bounty but the land itself appears untouched and unvisited. Much of it has undoubtedly never encountered a human footstep. The skies are a turmoil of clouds indicating competing forces but, despite its fearsome reputation, the dreaded Gulf is amazingly serene. We see a small pod of whales which we identify as Fins - the second largest after the blues. We anchor in Kupreanof Harbor between Paul and Jacob islands. Looking through the narrow gap between them we realize there is no land directly south of here until you reach Antarctica.

Saturday June 6th

We are underway at 1014 across continuing glassy seas. We round Kupreanof Point - another dramatic headland which materializes out of the mist at the tip of Kupreanof Peninsula. In the early afternoon under pale blue skies we enter American Bay. We see streams which appear to sprout from steep mountain sides half way down and others that vanish long before they reach the bottom. By the time we reach the head of the bay, mist shrouds the towering mountains and the rattle of the anchor chain is accompanied by the sound of rushing water from invisible waterfalls.

Sunday June 7th

The morning dawns overcast but fine so we decide to fly the drone. I plan to take pictures from the tender but the rain descends as we prepare to launch so we cancel the plan. We head directly for Sand Point where our first guest, George Sass, will be joining us tomorrow. Today is the first time we set foot on terra firma since leaving Kodiak on May 28th.

Upon arrived in Sand Point, being Sunday, no one responds to radio or phone radio so we tie up at a long dock designated T which we figure stands for Transient. While Chris and Christine are ashore to check out the situation, I have a visitor interested in Venture. I invite him on board and, in return, he invites us to visit his fishing boat now run by his son in law. We have a good look around this boat, Temptation, which is well maintained and in excellent condition. They generously present us with two red salmon fillets and two Silvers. We have dinner that evening at the Aleutian China restaurant which, surprising for a Chinese restaurant, overlooks the local cemetery where many of the graves are marked with Russian style crosses.

Monday June 8th

On this grey, rainy morning. I sign up for the internet and receive many e-mails. Most are garbage of course but it is good to be briefly back in touch with the outside world. George's plane arrives at 3 pm and he is kindly picked up at airport by the manager of local store who later that evening takes us on tour around island. If you live here long term you need to be self sufficient in the way of entertainment. Trident Seafoods are the big employer and, during the season, they bring in workers from all around the world including black Africa. We see a charter flight landing at the airport bringing in workers in time for the official opening of the salmon season in two days. For dinner we enjoy the salmon given to us by Temptation plus a chocolate pie bought by Christine at local bake sale raising funds for July 4th parade. We should be back here in time for that.

Tuesday June 9th

We had planned to leave today but, although the harbor is calm and there is a hazy sun, we decide to postpone our departure because the forecast for the area we need to go is for 30 knot winds and big seas.